Tag Archives: sci-fi

Surrogates

The Surrogatesby Robert Venditti

I had high hopes and maybe it was my fault hoping for a really gripping read accompanied by high-level artwork. It turned out to be something of a dud. There is definitely the seed of a great story but it never quite blossomed and the hastily presented resolution is dissatisfying to say the least. The crude artwork is without raw energy often associated with such style and the Surries, perfect and sleek and are such an improvement of “vanilla” humans, do not to be so. I believe the stale look of the panels is largely due to a fairly-uniformed Photoshopping process. Too bad.

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The Time Machine

The Time Machineby H.G. Wells

This is the first time I actually read this classic science fiction. As a forerunner of this genre, it does not feel stale or naive. It does not attempt to dazzle the reader with gadgets or worldbuilding, but simply tells a solid and thoughtful tale. And it is such a short and quick read, too.

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Battle Royale

Battle RoyaleAuthor: Koushun Takami
Rating:
Reading Level: Young Adult/Adult

Pages: 624
Publisher: VIZ
Edition:2003, Paperback

Finally. Read and finished this one. Ever since I heard about it (and watched the movie on youtube ;p) I had the book set aside to read but so many other things came along the way… it was WORTH my own wait and I wish that I had read it earlier in the school year so I could have recommended it to more readers.

It’s an interesting way to tell a story — there is an over arching plot, a simple one, an explosive one, a thoughtful one, but there are basically a series of character sketches as well. You meet some of the minor characters along the path, you know something about them, and they you see them being killed (mostly brutally, with graphic details — not for the faint of heart!) It’s an examination of human nature – the good, the bad, and the in between; the kind, the evil, and the confused. I actually shed tears at 4 different points — some for characters I learned to love; some for “throw-away” characters whose stories happen to touch my heart.

It seems to be a long book, but it’s such a fast and easy read. The alternative history aspect and the social criticism aspect are slightly didactic, but still work well with the narrative flow. Lots of action and “fun” — if one can define reading about 15-year-olds forced into killing each other as a fun experience.

My last words of wisdom? DO NOT WATCH THE MOVIE before reading the book; after reading the book, you will be disappointed by the movie. So, if you plan on reading the book, basically, just let the notion of watching the movie go!

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Watchmen

WatchmenAuthor: Alan Moore, illus. by Dave Gibbons
Rating:
Reading Level: YA, Adult

Publisher: DC Comic
Edition:
Paperback, 1987

It took me a long time to finish this seemingly slim volume. I took in every word, every image, and every reference as slowly as I could manage. Not that the story is too complex, but its form does demand some attention and appreciation: the interwoven stories of the masked vigilantes and the embedded graphic novel of the Black Freighter (or the Pirate story as my students refer to it) and the various texts of the story-within-the story by one of the side characters and all the other para-“documents.”

I enjoyed all the double-descriptors: words and phrases that convey the meaning for one scene but also aptly describe the situations of another scene. Moore employed this technique through out the novel — it did not get tired for me, just amusing.

The final two “chapters,” however, seem to rely too much on Adrian’s explanation of his whole back story and his reasons behind all the plans and schemes, slowing down the momentum and diminishing the thrilling mystery part of the whole tale. I wish Moore had figured out a more active and exciting way for the exposing of Adrian and his plot.

I also must say that I think the filmmakers did a fantastic job translating the novel into the movie. The only real gripe I have is in the odd casting of Adrian’s role — instead of an athletic superhero, the actor seems fragile and without the kind of commanding presence that this role demands. The movie ends differently from the book — having gotten rid of the entire side story of the vanishing artists, novelists, and scientists with their creation of the “alien being” that devastates half of New York City — but by putting the blame on Dr. Manhattan, the film has added another layer of emotional burden onto a major character and I have to applaud that particular line of changes. And, may I say that I absolutely ADORE Rorschach in the movie — his scenes are most memorable and the actor’s skillful portrayal of this tragic hero is impeccable!

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Dystopia on My Mind

After reading Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Game, I’ve been mulling over the notion of a Dystopian novel. Have had some online and off-line discussions and realized that my definition of a Dystopian novel is very narrow but still want to hold on to that view because I believe that if it is too broadly applied, the power of the genre will cease to be as effective as it has been. Here’s an IM chat transcript between me (F) and a former student who is now entering his senior year in high school (J). Slight edition was applied to the original format to make it more readable:

AIM IM with J.

J: Hey!
J: Happy 4th!
F: You too You too
F: So. Asking you a quesiton.
J: Yeah?
F: What do you think is a Dystopia?
J: …Hmm. Well, WALL-E is dystopian.
F: how so?
J: It’s a vision of the world where everything’s gone to hell.
F: I have a very narrow definition of dystopia. That’s too broad. That’s just a BAD future
J: Alright. Well 1984 is dystopian. Yes?
F: Yes. Explain. Haha. This Is A Test!
J: Oh. So you subscribe to the theory that a dystopia must appear utopian.
F: I do.
J: I don’t.
F: Then why bother using the term?
J: A dystopia is a world where everything is wrong. Look at the Greek roots.
F: I know.. but the word did not exist until 1868 according to OED
J: War of the Worlds is dystopian.
F: An imaginary place or condition in which everything is as bad as possible. That’s the broad definition. I’m thinking of the literary tradition. The ‘dystopia’ or ‘inverted utopia’.I guess it can be so easily defined as a horrible future world (or current world.)
J: Yes.
F: Then, to me, the word to define a genre is almost pointless. ’cause anyone writing about the future with a bad government is writing a dystopian novel. Argh. ugh too.
J: Hmm. Well. You have a point, that it broadens the definition…
F: and ceases to be truly meaningful.
J: Although a bad government would never a dystopia make. Go see WALL-E and we can have a more intelligent conversation about this – seriously.
F: For me, the power of a dystopia novel is the presentation and conflict between what’s SO GOOD on the surface with what’s SO BAD underneath.
F: hahah. I will have to wait for Lily to get back to the city.
J: From the standpoint of a librarian, I see why you’re right.
F: I promised not to see it until then.
J: From the standpoint of a student of Greek, I disagree with you.
F: Haha
J: Brave New World. Dystopian?
F: That’s MEANT to be a Dystopian novel. So was 1984.
J: Fahrenheit 451?
F: But not sure about Blade Runner. I think 451 is. So is The Giver.
J: But Fahrenheit 451 isn’t meant to be utopian. Giver – certainly. Well, Do Androids Dream is dystopian – haven’t seen bladerunner.
F: That’s why I said, “I think.” ’cause I am not sure.
J: The Giver is a very archetypical dystopia. What about The Diamond Age?
F: Not Dystopian by a LONG SHOT. Neither are the Ender’s series. The world is not perfect but nothing is so inverse. There has to be some form of “inversion”
J: I kind of thought the Chinese world in Xenocide was dystopian?
F: That’s that particular world, maybe, but the entire series is definitely not concerning itself singularly that way.
J: I agree.
F: Matrix is not dystopian.
J: Oh? Why not?
F: Even though it does portray a world that is under such control.
F: I dont know.
J: btw, this question is awesome.
F: Why don’t I think so?
F: HAHAH
F: Matrix — ’cause I guess in some way the people who made the movie did not really have much to say about our society
F: As a literary genre, it serves a fairly specific function. Here’s an example: Lord of the Flies. It’s a little society that is as BAD as it can be.
J: LotF isn’t a dystopia.
F: That’s THE example. How it is not.
J: Well, I’ve stolen your view.
F: If by your original definition…
J: No, I’ve switched, irritatingly!
F: Haha
F: YEAH. I WON.
F: Ok.
F: I’m saving this convo for my blog.
J: Well, it’s poorly-conceived Greek by your definition.
J: But I concede that, from a literary standpoint, your definition makes more sense.
F: HAHAH. thank you. very much.
J: Have you read The Plot Against America?
F: Now I can go to bed and sleep well and be told by someone else tomorrow that my definition makes NO SENSE.
J: Phillip Roth?
F: Nope.
J: Alright. lol, who’s going to tell you that?
F: is that one?
F: Don’t know yet.
F: I’ve been asking everyone I meet.
F: run into.
J: I think it’s my lone example of a non-futuristic dystopia.
F: talk to.
F: cool.
F: For some reason, in my mind, there has to be some form of superficial utopian view by the masses to set up the stage for a dystopian novel to work. Or at least, to be effective or powerful. Without the contrast, it does not really function well.
J: If you want to interpret it that way, it’s a perfectly legitimate view. So you would think the second half of WALL-E is dystopian, not the first half! ^_^
F: I just read a book for kids (or teens) where you see everything of a BAD society from the view point of a girl who ALWAYS thought of the society as bad and MANY others feel the same way ’cause they are on the BOTTOM of the society. And I simply couldn’t peg this book as a dystopia ’cause there is no disillusion.
F: k. I look forward to the movie.
J: Snow Crash is a dystopia. Even if Diamond Age isn’t.
F: Say if Brave New World is viewed through not an Alpha’s pov but someone really low on the spectrum….
F: Nah.. Snow Crash is set in a future that is both good and bad and people have no illusion about what their society is about. It’s a Cyper Punk
J: I disagree with that interpretation.
F: Already a sub-genre.
J: Cyber Punk can be dystopian!
F: I know *haha* Just want to yank your chains.
J: What’s-it-called! The book by Gibson! Such a dystopia!
F: Neuromancer?
J: Yeah!
F: Hm… disagree. It’s just very bleak world, like Blade Runner.
F: Bleak /= Dystopian
J: So you would think it’s dystopian only from a Tessier-Ashpool point of view. Fantastic wealth, technological advances, theoretical happiness, but bleak = dystopian.
F: I’m thinking maybe one can define the WORLD as a dystopia some times without the book as dystopian. ?
J: Or parts of it, even…
F: I do think it depends also partially on how the author treats that world. The focus. Dystopian stories tend to be cautionary tales.
J: Parts of LotR are almost dystopian.
F: Nah. It’s FANTASY.
F: hahahahaha
J: Fantasy can be dystopian, silly!
F: Disagree re LotR.
J: Minas Tirith is totally dystopian.
F: If that is then Narnia is, too
F: Not at all.
J: The greatest city in the world, where everything’s perfect, rotting at its core?
F: Minas Tirith is just falling from grace, with one bad guardian.
J: A dystopia is a facade of perfection, yes?
F: That’s just faded glory.
J: Under which lies great misery?
F: You’re picking a small part of a grand picture to argue.
F: In MANY novels, you’ll find such settings to help move the plot along or to create conflict.
J: yes. I agree. And Narnia isn’t dystopia, just apocalyptic…
F: So, against the grand backdrop of LotR which is NOT a dystopian novel …
J: Do you mean to tell me you can’t have a utopian society in a non-utopian novel?
F: That’s important to distinguish and I agree with your assessment that Narnia isn’t dystopia (which was my point in the first place)
J: Lorien is a utopia. Yes?
F: Utopian is not a genre. We really don’t have a body of literary work that we can say, “Hey, look, a list of Utopian Novels.”
J: Sure we do. It’s just one book, and it’s by Sir Thomas More.
J: ^_^
F: That’s why I don’t believe that simply defining the word DYSTOPIA is sufficient in thinking about the literary device/genre.
F: it’s not a BODY/LIST of books
F: You stand corrected!
J: Eh, fair point.
F: ‘k. thanks. it’s been fun.

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William Sleator’s books

It was telling when Orson Scott Card, upon finding that I had read many of his books and not just the Ender series, got so excited and asked, “So, you must like William Sleator’s books a lot?” and proceeded to gush over Sleator’s work, specifically Singularity. I acted a bit dense and tried to high-five Card who told me that he’s not the “high-five kind.” ooops! But, our brief conversation reminded me how much I DID enjoy all the books I read by Sleator, and how much I appreciate that he not only creates gripping plot and probing philosophical and moral dilemmas, he also really gets in science right (at least according to the theories of the time when the books were written.) My favorite titles by him are Singularity, for its illuminating explanation of black hole and singularity and for its protagonist’s emotional and moral struggle after he realizes that he can age himself and turn the table on his superior and sometimes bullying brother; The Boy Who Reversed Himself, for its vivid depictions of different dimensional worlds and the protagonists’ grappling with adolescence and romance; The Green Future of Tyco, for its dizzying time-hopping scenes and Tyco’s realization of how a person’s past shapes his future and how one can become careless with one’s actions and turn out to be quite despicable; The House of Stairs for its chilling social experiment and exposure of the darker sides (and some brighter sides) of human nature; Among the Dolls, for its creepy depiction of neglected dolls and their revenge upon the careless girl. And I can’t talk about Sleator’s works without mentioning how much fun my students and I have had for years now when we shared the jokes (gross, quite often) and humorous events (highly exaggerated, quite often) in Oddballs — short stories based on his family stories.

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The Metamor City Podcast

Creator: Chris Lester
Listening Level: Older YA and Adults

Edition: 2007/2008 Audio Podcast

I have been listening to this Sci-Fan podcast for the past few weeks… catching up their early episodes from late 2007 and approaching this year’s newer productions. Every story happens in Metamor City — a futuristic sci-fi setting with magical creatures and fantasy elements. Fairies, demi-gods, mages ride on super-motorbike like vehicles and fight each other with not only magic but modern weaponry. The main ingredients of the stories I’ve listened to so far are violence, magic, sex, and humor: both light and dark. It’s definitely entertaining.

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Behind the Rules

Author: Stephanie Burgis
Rating:
Listening Level: Adult / YA


Publisher: ESCAPEPOD.ORG
Edition: Podcast

I have been following stories on EscapePod for a while now and have decided to at least mark the days that I’ve listened to an episode. This one is interesting, light, exploring the idea of cloning, with a couple of instances of strong language (I would NOT have given it an R rating as the podcaster Steve Eley had rated it.)

Direct Link to the Story

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Atherton: The House of Power

Author: Patrick Carman
Rating:
Reading Level:

Pages: 330
Publisher: Little, Brown
Edition: Hardcover, 2007

This grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go the entire time! Instantly, I was intrigued by the Frankeinstein quote and the strange conversation between the two disembodied voices. Edgar’s tale then unfolds with lots of fast paced action and suspenseful plot twists, a cast of well-delineated major and minor characters, and wonderful illustrations (I’d like just a few more… um… maybe a dozen more, of Squire Broel’s pencil drawings, actually!) I know that there is quite a bit of environmental message attached and all the science might not be accurately scientific and border on magical elements, but I bought it all: the world, the characters, the events, and wasn’t even that distraught to find no ending to this particular portion of the tale.

I was reluctant to start reading the book, since there is a half-wrap dust jacket and a Bonus CD-ROM — gimmicks that made me skeptical: the book must not be that great if they need to include special cover design and extra materials to draw readers! Glad that I did read it, really glad!

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A Scanner Darkly

Author: Philip Dick
Rating:
Reading Level: Adult


Publisher: Random House Audio
Edition: Text: 1977; Audio Book, read by Paul Giamatti, 2006

Loved the enigmatic plot line and shared the despair of the main characters in such bleak circumstances. Giamatti’s more than competent rendition of the text added to the appeal. I usually only listen to audio books when washing dishes or doing chores, but this one I had to listen on my iPod in bed and on the bus… couldn’t stop, especially during the latter half of the story. There are also many moments of absurdity that are both laughable and pitifully so. Really glad that I got to know this story — and now am wondering, “How on EARTH could they make this fairly introspective novel into a movie?” But, then, Blade Runner (based on Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep) was made and successfully so, although it is true that the book and the movie are quite different, both powerful in their own ways.

It was nice to finally understand the meaning of the title, too!

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Stranger in A Strange Land

Author: Robert A. Heinlein
Rating:
Reading Level: Adult

Pages: 438
Publisher: Ace Books, Penguin Putnam (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, original)
Edition: 1987 (1961)

I found this “most famous science fiction ever written” quite a disappointing read: the style is stale; the tone is preachy, the world view and solution of the human condition is simplistic, and the “science” is shaky at its best, although it was a ground-breaking work of its time.

Just because this story features a “Man from Mars” does not excuse its lack of scientific explanation of the telepathic power and the super-human abilities of Michael and eventually those humans that he has taught. And since there is so much talking and telling, emotionally I was never invested or drawn into the characters and their experiences. This is also such a product of its time – a reactionary social commentary against the puritanical social norms of the 50s America. Although I am not sure that many comments do not apply today, the tale as a whole feels very outdated.

Although Heinlein allows his male characters and the narrative voice to sometimes praise the female characters in their resourcefulness and their intelligence, a slight hint of male-dominance and superiority courses under the surface throughout the story: the fact that the true heroes of the story are Michael and Jubal and although the women are given important roles, they are never truly in the decision-making positions speaks volumes. And I am unsure why all the mothers show constant scorn against their own children when the “message” is for them to all love each other equally and without bias. To reduce the human condition and complexity to one singular solution, disregarding the forces of artistic (music, literature, art, etc.) or other human achievements and needs seems so narrow-minded to make me unhappy! (Jubal couldn’t find a single book to read in the NEST… my goodness!)

I did enjoy Jubal Harshaw’s brazen honesty and fearless loyalty.

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Fragile Things: Short Fiction and Wonders

Author: Neil Gaiman
Rating:
Reading Level: HS/Adult

Pages: 355
Publisher: William Morrow
Edition: Hardcover, 2006

This book is such a treasure — from the cover design to the very interesting, informative introduction, to each of the 30+ stories and poems. It is odd to think of this book with such fondness and deep, comforting satisfaction when most of the stories are unsettling, dark, often with unrestrained gore and tragic situations. I wanted to write my reaction to each of the story… but simply didn’t have time. Here are some of my favorite pieces. The short summary is just so I won’t forget what the stories are about…

October in the Chair
(the little boy running away, meeting a little ghost boy…)
Forbidden Brides of the Facelss Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire
(meta-fiction of a young writer, living in a world of fantasy and trying to write his own “realistic fiction”)
Bitter Grounds
(a “zombie” like traveler, assuming another’s identity…)
Other People
(very short and philosophical piece of demons in hell)
Harlequin Valentine
(tricking and being tricked — do not lightly give away your heart — pinning it on the door, with blood dripping..)
The Problem of Susan
(what happens to Susan after the Last Battle from the Narnia books…)
Instructions (poem)
(instructions to one who finds herself trapped inside a fairy tell)
My Life (poem)
(tall-tale goth and funny)
Feeders and Eaters
(a really creepy cannibal story)
Goliath
(a possible story from the world of the movie Matrix)
The Day the Saucers Came (poem)
(humorous accumulative love letter)
Sunbird
(what happens when you have eaten all the rare and precious foodstuff – and not so-foodstuff – in the world)

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The Merchant of Death (Pendragon #1)

Author: D.J. MacHale
Rating:
Reading Level: 4th to 6th

Pages: 374
Publisher: Aladdin Paperbacks (Simon & Schuster)
Edition: Paperback, 2002 (2002)

Bobby Pendragon describes events as Bazzario, his friend and uncle as Coolio, something sad is always going to “break his heart” and when facing death, he cannot help himself but uttering “Whoa!” I can’t believe the kind of drivel that is kept in this published work. At least half of the description, statement, and revelation is redundant. MacHale is a master of stating, restating, and overstating the obvious. It’s as if there is no trust in the reader’s ability to make sense and emotional connection or interpretation of the events.

There are life-or-death situations throughout the story but if one thinks twice about it, it is apparent that a tighter, more powerful story can emerge from beneath the jumble and rambling of words. Show, Mr. MacHale, show, and don’t tell!

I also couldn’t suspend my disbelief to accept that Bobby could scratch with a crude pen-and-ink-set on FOUR sheets of parchment, almost 50-printed pages worth of “journal entry.” Ok, he has to write “everything down” but if he only had a few hours (as it is the case) and a limited supply of parchment, it just does not make sense for him to record every single last word in the dialog or for him to make side mental comments on the situations. It simply does not follow logic — and in works of the fantastic and the wonderous, logic is more important to keep the fabric of the tale together.

So, I am forced to finish this book because my students keep asking me to read it because it is “GREAT”! Now, I have to start questioning how and why this book is great…. I need help! But I’m just happy that I’ve finally finished the book (what a painful week it was!) and can now move on to the new Neil Gaiman short story collection, The Fragile Things

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The Homework Machine

Author: Dan Gutman
Rating:
Reading Level: 4th and 5th

Pages: 146
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Edition: Hardcover, 2006

This definitely is a highly enjoyable book — a lot less funny than I had expected, and the homework machine itself seems a little bit far-fetched, but the characters and their slowly developed friendship are utterly true to life that the whole story simply works, convincingly. This is a quick read. The teacher (Miss Rasmussen)who is neither a heroic figure, nor a villain, is also realistically portrayed. Indeed there is no villain at all, except, maybe Belch the Computer itself and the internal enemies of all: laziness, bad habits, insecurity.

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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep

Author: Philip Dick
Rating:
Reading Level: 9th and up

This reads so differently from Blade Runner which it inspired. I am more or less indifferent to the book — I like the philosophical aspect of it but also am a bit bored reading too much musing and not enough action. Might be a bit unfair since my expectation was based on the action-packed movie..

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Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Author: Douglass Adams
Rating:
Reading Level: Middle School to Adult

This wacky science ficition story is read so amazingly well by Stephen Fry! I thoroughly enjoyed the listening experience. Now I must go on with the rest of the series! Of course, I can see that maybe some of the slapstick jokes can get a bit tiring after being repeated a few more times than absolutely necessary. Fortunately it is a short tale. I don’t think I could have withstood the funny blasts much longer!

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Mortal Engines

Author: Philip reeve
Rating:
Reading Level: 5th and up

This scary, ugly world of the future (thousands of years away) is so well realized and extremely chilling. The story is exciting but oh, so very sad. Almost every single one of the characters, major or minor, dies along the way. So bleak — most of the deaths are justifiable, but some seem a bit gratuitous. Definitely not a book for the weak of stomach. After closing the book, I can still hear the grinding of the city wheels and gear and feel the pain from so many different kinds of wounds inflicted to the various characters.

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Shadow of the Giant

by Orson Scott Card

highly recommended
scifi, series (6th and up)

This last installment of Ender’s Shadow series is really gripping. Much better than Shadoe Puppet. I enjoyed finding more about Peter and his rise to power and his personalities. So great to see all the old characters making appearances again — including Ender!

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